The Real State of Iraq By Juan Cole

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By Juan Cole
06/23/08 “ICH”

American television loves natural disasters. The Burmese cyclones that may have carried off as many as 200,000 people offered the cameras high drama.

The floods in Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri along the Mississippi River, which have wiped out thousands of homes, have been carefully detailed hour by hour.

But American television is little interested in the massive disaster blithely visited upon Iraq by Washington. Oh, there is the occasional human interest story. Angelina Jolie’s visit sparked a headline or two. Briefly.

By now, summer of 2008, excess deaths from violence in Iraq since March of 2003 must be at least a million. This conclusion can be reached more than one way. There is not much controversy about it in the scientific community. Some 310,000 of those were probably killed by US troops or by the US Air Force, with the bulk dying in bombing raids by US fighter jets and helicopter gunships on densely populated city and town quarters.

In absolute numbers, that would be like bombing to death everyone in Pittsburgh, Pa. Or Cincinnati, Oh.

Only, the US is 11 times more populous than Iraq, so 310,000 Iraqi corpses would equal 3.4 million dead Americans. So proportionally it would be like firebombing to death everyone in Chicago.

The one million number includes not just war-related deaths but all killings beyond what you would have expected from the 2000-2002 baseline. That is, if tribal feuds got out of hand and killed a lot of people because the Baath police were demobilized or disarmed and so no longer intervened, those deaths go into the mix. All the Sunnis killed in the north of Hilla Province (the ‘triangle of death’) when Shiite clans displaced from the area by Saddam came back up to reclaim their farms would be included. The kidnap victims killed when the ransom did not arrive in time would be included. And, of course, the sectarian, ethnic and militia violence, even if Iraqi on Iraqi, would count. And it hasn’t been just hot spots like Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and Kirkuk. The rate of excess violent death has been pretty standard across Arab Iraq.

As for the Iraqis killed by Americans, like the 24 civilians in Haditha, the survivors are not going to be pro-American any time soon. The US can always find politicians to come out and say nice things on a visit to the Rose Garden. But the people. I don’t think the people are saying nice things in Arabic behind our backs.

The wars of Iraq– the Iran-Iraq War, the repressions of the Kurds and the Shiites, the Gulf War, and the American Calamity, may have left behind as many as 3 million widows. Having lost their family’s breadwinner, many are destitute.

Although it is very good news that the number of Iraqis killed in political violence fell in May to 532 according to official sources, the number was twice that in March and April. And, it should be remembered that independent observers have busted the Pentagon for grossly under-reporting attacks and casualties. If someone shows up dead and they aren’t sure exactly why, it isn’t counted as political violence, just as an ordinary murder. Attacks per day are measured by whether the mortar shell scratches any US equipment when it explodes. If not, it didn’t happen. McClatchy estimated a year and a half ago that attacks were being underestimated by a factor of 10.

By the way, isn’t is a little odd that the death rate fell in the month of the Great Mosul Campaign? I conclude that either it can’t have been much of a campaign or someone is cooking the death statistics.

But over 500 a month dead in political violence is appalling enough. The Srebenica massacre in 1995 killed 8,000. At the average rate of death in Iraq this winter and spring, a similar massacre will have been racked up in 2008. In the Northern Ireland troubles over 30 years, about 3,000 people died, and it was widely considered a bad situation. That death toll is still being achieved every 6 months in Iraq according to the official May statistics.

And, of course, by the rule of 11, that death toll would be like nearly 6,000 Americans dying in political violence every month, or 72,000 a year. (Note that this 72,000 figure would only be political deaths, since it does not include criminal homicides). The annual total murder rate in the US is about 16,000, including political violence, what little there is. The US is one of the most violent societies on earth, and Iraq in May makes it look like a pacifist convention.

In these situations, typically 3 persons are wounded for every one killed. In Iraq, I suspect it is higher, because US bombings and guerrilla bombings are such a big part of the violence. But let us be conservative.

That would mean 3 million Iraqi wounded in the past five years.

Equivalent to 33 million Americans wounded, that is, the entire state of California crippled or in bandages.

As for the displaced (i.e. homeless), they amount to a startling 5 million persons. There were 1.8 million internally displaced in January of 2007, and by December it had risen to 2.4 million. There are 2.3 million externally displaced, 2 million of them in Jordan and Syria.

In fact 5 million displaced persons is almost the entire population of nearby countries such as Jordan or Israel! 5 million is about the number of Jews in Israel, for instance. In absolute numbers, that is how many Iraqis are living in some other country or some other province, having lost their homes.

Some 1.4 million Iraqis are stuck in Syria, many becoming increasingly penniless. Another 500,000 to 800,000 have been displaced to Jordan, which has now closed its borders to them. Please read this excellent piece of reporting, which points out that the US has done diddly squat for these millions of people upon whom it has visited a world class catastrophe, neither allotting meaningful amounts of aid nor admitting more than a token number as immigrants. Sweden has admitted 40,000 Iraqis, nearly 4 times what the US even plans to. Please write the Senate and the Congress and demand that something be done for these, our victims.

40% of Iraq’s middle class is outside the country.

Very few of the refugees abroad have returned, only a few thousand. Only 12% of the returnees say they are going back because they think it is safe now, according to UN border polls.

The refusal of the refugees to return makes me suspicious of the good news stories about security improvements in Iraq. There is an Arabic proverb that “The people of a house know best what is in the house.”

2 Shiite brothers who returned home to Baquba an hour northeast of Baghdad were just kidnapped and killed by Sunnis.

5 million displaced Iraqis would be like 55 million displaced Americans, or the equivalent of everybody in California and New York combined

American commentators peculiarly lack a social dimension to their analyses. So if PM Nuri al-Maliki sends some troops up to Mosul and the guerrillas there lie low for a while, that is “progress” and “good news.” Well, maybe it is, I don’t know.

I do know that the apocalypse that the United States has unleashed upon Iraq is among the greatest catastrophes to befall any country in the past 50 years. It is a much worse disaster over time than the Burmese cyclone or the Mississippi floods.

You won’t see it on television very much these days.

Even if it gets better, it won’t get better very fast for all those millions wounded, widowed, orphaned, and displaced; as for the 1 million dead, as they say in Arabic, God have mercy on them (Allah yarhamhum). Maybe it will get better sooner for the politicians in the Green Zone. They are the sort of people that the think tanks in Washington seem to care about.

McClatchy reports political violence in Iraq on Saturday:

‘ Baghdad

– Around 1 p.m. a bomb planted in the car of the office manager of the Iraqi minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research exploded in Al Tobchi neighborhood injuring three including the minister’s office manager.

– Around 4 p.m. a bomb planted in a civilian car exploded in Al Nidhal Street injuring two Iraqi employees of a local LG Company branch.

– Around 5 p.m. a bomb planted in a police vehicle exploded in Al Andalus square injuring two policemen.

– Police found two dead bodies throughout Baghdad; one in Al Baladiyat, one in Mansour.


– Police found the bodies of two brothers, Ali and Mohamed Zaid, in Al Tahrir neighborhood in Baquba . . .


– Around 8 a.m. a car exploded in central Kirkuk injuring the two passengers in the car. Police said they suspect the two passengers were planning a car bomb attack. The two suspects are under investigation, police said.’

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Countdown: Politics & Terror + McCain & Gas Pains + George Carlin

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June 23, 2008

Vision Of Change

Terrorist Attack Would Be ‘BIG ADVANTAGE’ for McCain!




Clarke on The Nexus of Politics and Terror

Keith talks to Richard Clarke about Charlie Black’s comments about a terrorist attack being good for John McCain getting elected and how the GOP has been running on fear since 9-11.

McCain & Gas Pains

Keith reports on the McCain battery jackpot and his relations to those that supported the legal loopholes that have allowed the speculators to drive up the gas prices to begin with. Chris Hayes of The Nation weighs in.

George Carlin 1937-2008

Keith remembers George Carlin and replays his last interview with him from October 2007.

Worst Person

And the winner is….Monica Crowley. Runners up the New York Post and Michelle Bachmann.

Obama Vowed To Filibuster Against Immunity For Telecoms


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Countdown: Spies Like Us + Politics Of Distortion

Comedian George Carlin dies in Los Angeles at 71 + Who owns you?

Countdown Special Report: Energy and Enron Loophole

Prez Sez: I’m Addicted; Bigger Syringe, Please!

The Real News: Who’s to blame for price of oil?

Bolivia: Enron and Separatism by Andrés Soliz Rada

The Coming Catastrophe? by David DeBatto

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by David DeBatto
Global Research
June 23, 2008

Global Research Editor’s note

We bring to the attention of our readers David DeBatto’s scenario as to what might occur if one of the several  contingency plans to attack Iran, with the participation of Israel and NATO, were to be carried out. While one may disagree with certain elements of detail of the author’s text, the thrust of this analysis must taken seriously.

The finishing touches on several contingency plans for attacking Iran

London Daily Telegraph, 6/11/2008

“Israel has said a strike on Iran will be “unavoidable” if the Islamic regime continues to press ahead with alleged plans for building an atom-bomb.” (London Daily Telegraph, 6/11/2008)

“Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany joined President Bush on Wednesday in calling for further sanctions against Iran if it does not suspend its uranium enrichment program.” Mr. Bush stressed again that “all options are on the table,” which would include military force. (New York Times, 6/11/2008)

We are fast approaching the final six months of the Bush administration. The quagmire in Iraq is in its sixth painful year with no real end in sight and the forgotten war in Afghanistan is well into its seventh year. The “dead enders” and other armed factions are still alive and well in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan again controls most of that country. Gas prices have now reached an average of $4.00 a gallon nationally and several analysts predict the price will rise to $5.00-$6.00 dollars per gallon at the pump by Labor Day. This, despite assurances by some major supporters of the decision to invade Iraq that the Iraq war “will pay for itself” (Paul Wolfowitz) or that we will see “$20.00 per barrel” oil prices if we invade Iraq (Rupert Murdoch).

One thing the Pentagon routinely does (and does very well) is conduct war games. Top brass there are constantly developing strategies for conducting any number of theoretical missions based on real or perceived threats to our national security or vital interests. This was also done prior to the invasion of Iraq, but the Bush administration chose not to listen to the dire warnings about that mission given to him by Pentagon leaders, or for that matter, by his own senior intelligence officials. Nevertheless, war gaming is in full swing again right now with the bullseye just to the right of our current mess – Iran.

It’s no secret that the U.S. is currently putting the finishing touches on several contingency plans for attacking Iranian nuclear and military facilities. With our ground forces stretched to the breaking point in Iraq and Afghanistan, none of the most likely scenarios involve a ground invasion. Not that this administration wouldn’t prefer to march into the seat of Shiite Islam behind a solid, moving line of M1 Abrams tanks and proclaim the country for democracy. The fact is that even the President knows we can’t pull that off any more so he and the neo-cons will have to settle for Shock and Awe Lite.

If we invade Iran this year it will be done using hundreds of sorties by carrier based aircraft already stationed in the Persian Gulf and from land based aircraft located in Iraq and Qatar. They will strike the known nuclear facilities located in and around Tehran and the rest of the country as well as bases containing major units of the Iranian military, anti-aircraft installations and units of the Revolutionary Guard (a separate and potent Iranian para-military organization).

Will this military action stop Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons? Probably not. It will probably not even destroy all of their nuclear research facilities, the most sensitive of which are known to be underground, protected by tons of earth and reinforced concrete and steel designed to survive almost all attacks using conventional munitions. The Iranian military and Revolutionary Guard will most likely survive as well, although they will suffer significant casualties and major bases and command centers will undoubtedly be destroyed. However, since Iran has both a functioning Air Force, Navy (including submarines) and modern anti-aircraft capabilities, U.S. fighter-bombers will suffer casualties as well. This will not be a “Cake Walk” as with the U.S. led invasion of Iraq in 2003 when the Iraqi Army simply melted away and the Iraqi Air Force never even launched a single aircraft.

Not even close.

If the United States attacks Iran either this summer or this fall, the American people had better be prepared for a shock that may perhaps be even greater to the national psyche (and economy) than 9/11. First of all, there will be significant U.S. casualties in the initial invasion. American jets will be shot down and the American pilots who are not killed will be taken prisoner – including female pilots. Iranian Yakhonts 26, Sunburn 22 and Exocet missiles will seek out and strike U.S. naval battle groups bottled up in the narrow waters of the Persian Gulf with very deadly results. American sailors will be killed and U.S. ships will be badly damaged and perhaps sunk. We may even witness the first attack on an American Aircraft carrier since World War II.

That’s just the opening act.

Israel (who had thus far stayed out of the fray by letting the U.S. military do the heavy lifting) is attacked by Hezbollah in a coordinated and large scale effort. Widespread and grisly casualties effectively paralyze the nation, a notion once thought impossible. Iran’s newest ally in the region, Syria, then unleashes a barrage of over 200 Scud B, C and D missiles at Israel, each armed with VX gas. Since all of Israel is within range of these Russian built weapons, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and virtually all major civilian centers and several military bases are struck, often with a result of massive casualties.

The Israeli Air Force orders all three squadrons of their F-16I Sufa fighter/bombers into the air with orders to bomb Tehran and as many military and nuclear bases as they can before they are either shot down or run out of fuel. It is a one way trip for some of these pilots. Their ancient homeland lies in ruins. Many have family that is already dead or dying. They do not wait for permission from Washington, DC or U.S. regional military commanders. The Israeli aircraft are carrying the majority of their country’s nuclear arsenal under their wings.

Just after the first waves of U.S. bombers cross into Iranian airspace, the Iranian Navy, using shore based missiles and small, fast attack craft sinks several oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz, sealing off the Persian Gulf and all its oil from the rest of the world. They then mine the area, making it difficult and even deadly for American minesweepers to clear the straits. Whatever is left of the Iranian Navy and Air Force harasses our Navy as it attempts minesweeping operations. More U.S casualties.

The day after the invasion Wall Street (and to a lesser extent, Tokyo, London and Frankfurt) acts as it always does in an international crisis – irrational speculative and spot buying reaches fever pitch and sends the cost of oil skyrocketing. In the immediate aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iran, the price of oil goes to $200.00 – $300.00 dollars a barrel on the open market. If the war is not resolved in a few weeks, that price could rise even higher.  This will send the price of gasoline at the pump in this country to $8.00-$10.00 per gallon immediately and subsequently to even higher unthinkable levels.

If that happens, this country shuts down. Most Americans are not be able to afford gas to go to work. Truckers pull their big rigs to the side of the road and simply walk away. Food, medicine and other critical products are not be brought to stores. Gas and electricity (what is left of the short supply) are too expensive for most people to afford. Children, the sick and elderly die from lack of air-conditioned homes and hospitals in the summer. Children, the sick and elderly die in the winter for lack of heat. There are food riots across the country. A barter system takes the place of currency and credit as the economy dissolves and banks close or limit withdrawals. Civil unrest builds.

The police are unable to contain the violence and are themselves victims of the same crisis as the rest of the population. Civilian rule dissolves and Martial Law is declared under provisions approved under the Patriot Act. Regular U.S. Army and Marine troops patrol the streets. The federal government apparatus is moved to an unknown but secure location. The United States descends into chaos and becomes a third world country. Its time as the lone superpower is over.

It doesn’t get any worse than this.

Then the first Israeli bomber might drop its nuclear payload on Tehran.

David DeBatto is a former U.S. Army Counterintelligence Special Agent, Iraqi war veteran and co-author the “CI” series from Warner Books and the upcoming “Counter to Intelligence” from Praeger Security International.

© Copyright David DeBatto, Global Research, 2008

The url address of this article is:


Coming war against Iran: Increasing Anglo-American pressure on Turkey

IAEA chief: ‘Ball of fire’ if Iran attacked + Israel’s dry run ‘attack on Iran’ with 100 jet fighters


HR 6304 – A Bill to Abolish the 4th Amendment

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This is a nice compilation of the FISA bill discussion.  See: Kucinich & Sheila Jackson Lee Arguing Against Changes to FISA + Pelosi’s Support! for more coverage. ~ Lo


Assembled by the team at

On June 20, 2008 – 293 Representatives voted in favor to invalidate the 4th Amendment.

But before they voted, this is what our leaders in Washington had to say about HR6304

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

“Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither.”

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The Hedonists of Power By Chris Hedges

4th Amendment: Rest in Peace 12.15.1791 – 06.20.2008

Carte blanche to illegally spy on Americans by Tom Burghardt

Kucinich & Sheila Jackson Lee Arguing Against Changes to FISA + Pelosi’s Support!


WTC7 Survivor Barry Jennings’ Account

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Exclusive: Emergency Coordinator Barry Jennings gives his explosive account from inside WTC7 hours before its collapse on 9/11.

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Prez Sez: I’m Addicted; Bigger Syringe, Please!

Dandelion Salad

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow
06/23/08 “ICH”

Several years ago, the President of the United States acknowledged that America is addicted to oil. He did nothing to address the addiction, protected its Drug Lords (the Big Oil companies) and their enormous profits, and now has demanded a bigger syringe so as to mainline his favorite drug into the veins and arteries of the American people.

And of course into the veins of all the world, where the planet’s very breath and wind are being choked to death by burning oil and rising CO2.

Mr. Bush’s proposal to drill for oil in the Alaska nature reserve and off the American coasts has nothing to do with reducing gasoline prices at the pump. (The oil companies already have legal options on reserves that they are not trying to drill.) Nor does his proposal to limit the legal and environmental challenges to plans for new oil refineries, since in any case new refineries would take years to build.

Tying these proposals to the price of gasoline is a lie. It follows in the heels of the Big Lie about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the Big Lie about imminent nuclear weapons in Iran. Those lies, like this one, were also tied to increasing the power of Big Oil. (For an analysis of how the military might of the US has been perverted to the protection of Big Oil, see an article by Michael Klare at

The Bush proposals have only one purpose: to add to the power of his favorite Drug Pushers before he leaves office. If he gets away with doing that, it is future generations of Americans and every other people and most species on our planet’s face who will suffer.

Instead of strengthening the power of Big Oil and its willingness to sell the future of our planet to multiply its world-record profits, this is what we could do now:

1. Mr. Bush could have strongly supported the plan of Mayor Bloomberg of New York, to charge fees for auto use of car-choked central Manhattan, putting the proceeds into mass transit. And he could have urged such arrangements for other cities, too. That would have saved oil. (see my Op/Ed piece on this, just published in the NY Jewish week.

2. He could have asked Congress to reinstate lower speed limits on the nation’s highways. That would have saved oil.

3. He could have urged Congress to extend the tax credits for installation of wind and solar energy equipment, set to expire soon. That would have saved oil, and encouraged new jobs as well.

4. He could have told his pet EPA administrator, who recently took his orders to prevent California and 25 other states from insisting on higher standards of gasoline mileage for autos, to reverse that kowtow to Big Oil and OK the higher standards. That would have saved oil.

5. He could have supported a strong Congressional bill to enact cap-and-trade limits on CO2 emissions. That would have saved oil.

Instead, he announced he would veto even the weak Lieberman-Warner bill, thus guaranteeing its defeat by Senate Republicans — though even that bill would have saved some oil.

But saving oil, preventing global climate crisis, and benefiting drivers or truckers is not the point. Lining the pockets and increasing the power of his pals in Big Oil is the point.

What is this like? In the story of Pharaoh, over and over his actions bring disaster on the people and land of Egypt. He does not care. He has become addicted to his own power, and even the warnings of his own advisers and the wreckage of his own country do not matter.

It is true that the Drug Lords of Big Oil have turned most Americans into oiloholic addicts, just as Big Tobacco turned millions of us into nicotine addicts. But we can redeem ourselves and save our children from asthma, our food prices from disaster, our Iowa from unprecedented floods and our Georgia from unprecedented drought and our New Orleans from unprecedented hurricanes if we act.

Please do two things today:

1) Call 202/224-3121 and ask for your Senators and your member of the House of Representatives. Ask for the energy-policy person on their staff, and then say who you are, where you’re from, and why your strongest religious, spiritual, and ethical beliefs are opposed to Mr. Bush’s plan.

2) Write a short letter to one of your local newspapers.

In both, make clear that for you this is an issue of justice and survival, and urge your representatives to act now to strengthen not the oil industry but the practice of energy conservation and the use of sustainable and renewable energy sources. Ask them to speak out now, denouncing the President’s plan to lavish more money and power on Big Oil even before the bills formally come before Congress.

There is nothing more important to our future. Nothing.

Shalom, Arthur

Rabbi Arthur Waskow edits The Shalom Report, a free weekly email newsletter.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Inside USA: Noam Chomsky

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In the world of academia Noam Chomsky is the most cited author alive. He talks to Inside USA about politics in the United States and this Presidential election.

AlJazeeraEnglish on Jun 23, 2008

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Fun With War Crimes #3 – A Throbbing Surge

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The press rolls over like a good dog and everything is “America’s” fault — huh??

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Fun With War Crimes: Heckuva Job! + 9/11 Changed Everything

The Hedonists of Power By Chris Hedges

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By Chris Hedges
06/23/08 “Truthdig

Washington has become Versailles. We are ruled, entertained and informed by courtiers. The popular media are courtiers. The Democrats, like the Republicans, are courtiers. Our pundits and experts are courtiers. We are captivated by the hollow stagecraft of political theater as we are ruthlessly stripped of power. It is smoke and mirrors, tricks and con games. We are being had.

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Mosaic News – 06/20/08: World News From The Middle East

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This video may contain images depicting the reality and horror of war/violence and should only be viewed by a mature audience.


For more:
“UK court: Muslim preacher should be extradited to US,” Al Jazeera TV, Qatar
“Iran rebels execute kidnapped policemen,” Al Arabiya TV, UAE
“Israel favors talks with Lebanon,” Dubai TV, UAE
“Bulldozers Dig Graves of Enemy in Galilee,” New TV, Lebanon
“Deported to Gaza,” Al-Alam TV, Iran
“NATO Kills More than 100 Talibans,” Al Jazeera English, Qatar
“High Commission to Regulate Arab Broadcasting,” Egypt Satellite Channel, Egypt
“Appeasement Israeli Style,” Link TV, USA
Produced for Link TV by Jamal Dajani.

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The Real News: Who’s to blame for price of oil?

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Oil consuming nations stepped up pressure on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) on Sunday to increase production at an international summit on spiraling crude prices in the Saudi city of Jeddah. OPEC leaders are saying doubling of oil prices over the past year was due to geopolitical tension, unregulated speculation and a shortage of refining capacity rather than a failure by producers to supply enough crude. Antonia Juhasz, author of the book “Tyranny of Oil” comments on the current situation.

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The latest setback: problems mount for U.S. missile defence

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Poland is demanding one billion dollars a year from the United States for allowing elements of its anti-missile defence shield to be placed there.

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Thanks For The Call Colonel – Well Maybe Not by Bruce Gagnon

Harvest of Injustice: The Oppression of Migrant Workers on Canadian Farms

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By Adriana Paz
June 22, 2008

Adriana Paz is a co-founder and organizer of Justicia/Justice for Migrant Workers-BC (J4MW), a volunteer collective based in Toronto and Vancouver that strives to promote the rights of Mexican, Caribbean, and Guatemalan workers who annually participate in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP).

Socialist Voice has also published an important document on a related issue: Bolivian President Evo Morales Condemns Europe’s Anti-Migrant Law

Some say that nothing happens by chance. At the very least, it was a fortunate accident that my first job, when I arrived in Canada from Bolivia three years ago, was in a tomato greenhouse in South Delta, British Columbia — one of the first in the province to request migrant farm workers from Mexico under the federal Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP). My job was to run from the office managers’ office to the greenhouse and back relaying information on workers’ productivity levels.

My first observation was that brown bodies are the pickers and white bodies are the managers. I naively asked my boss why there are no Canadians picking tomatoes. He answered me simply, “Because this is not a job for them.”

That was my first lesson in Canadian social history. In B.C., most farm workers are and have long been immigrants of colour, including recently a growing number of seasonal migrants under SAWP and a related federal scheme, the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. Battered by the whims of global capital and local government policy, farm workers are the most vulnerable part of the work force, facing extreme job and economic insecurity.

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives BC, most farm workers in the province are immigrants from India, chiefly women in their 50s and 60s who came to Canada under the family reunification program. Lack of language skills and the obligation to their families to repay money advanced for their immigration and settlement pressure them to accept working conditions that Canadian workers find unacceptable.

Their plight is worsened by the Farm Labour Contractor (FLC) system, unique to the agricultural sector. The FLCs act as coyotes or intermediaries between farm workers and greenhouses/farms, determining how workers will get to the job, how long they will work, what they will earn, and so on. Obviously the FLCs do nothing to ensure respect for employment standards and safety regulations, leading to all sort of violations while the provincial authorities close their eyes.

For generations, South Asians have toiled in the fields of British Columbia under unsafe and exploitative conditions, enduring low wages and long hours of hard work while creating massive profits for agrobusiness.

Although fully informed about the corrupt FLCs and their blatant violations of employment and safety regulations, the provincial government decided in 2001/2002 to reduce enforcement. Then in 2003/2004 they excluded farm workers from various provisions of the Employment Standards Act, leaving this group of racialized labour even more vulnerable to hyperexploitation.

How to create a labour shortage

Since 2000, farm operators in B.C. have been complaining of a shortage of labour to harvest their crops. Little science is needed find the cause. When wages are low, often less than the legal minimum, and working conditions are substandard, workers are unwilling to work in agriculture if they have a choice.

The farm operators are of course passing on downwards the immense pressures they face from the forces of globalization and the power of agribusiness monopolies. Far from providing protection against these profiteers, the government, urged on by the farm/greenhouse operators, has adopted policies that have worsened the “labour shortage.”

Nothing was done to raise farm labour wages or to increase the supply of immigrant labour. On the contrary, their measures serve to make agricultural labour not only unattractive but unlivable. To make matters worse, Citizenship and Immigration Canada in 2003 restricted the family reunification program, reducing the traditional South Asian labour source of those utilizing this program to immigrate to Canada.

Meanwhile the federal government is closing the door to permanent immigration of farm workers while steadily moving towards a U.S-style policy based on temporary migration.

All this is of course the total opposite of the “free market” policies that the government claims to support. In a free market, when demand for something goes up, so should its price. If there’s a labour shortage in Canadian agriculture, wages should tend upwards until the supply of labour increases. By aggressively expanding Temporary Worker Programs, the government is manipulating market conditions to keep wages and working conditions low in order to increase corporate profits.

Government-imposed servitude

Ottawa’s seasonal agricultural workers program (SAWP) is an old federal initiative that started in 1966 with Caribbean countries. Mexico and Guatemala were incorporated in the seventies. SAWP operates in Alberta, Quebec, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, supplying 20% of seasonal farm jobs on vegetable, fruit, and tobacco farms and greenhouses. B.C. was incorporated in 2004.

Under the SAWP a farm worker comes under a temporary work permit visa tied to one single employer for periods of up to eight months. Before leaving the home country, the worker must sign a contract with the employer specifying wages and terms of employment — in other words, sign away the right while in Canada to seek better conditions. Those seeking permits are not allowed to bargain collectively with their prospective employer. Impoverished and dispossessed workers abroad stand alone against the power of employer and government. The employer is able to dictate contract terms.

Justicia/Justice for Migrant Workers-BC calls on Ottawa to offer the migrant workers permanent status — for them and their families — at the end of their first season. In fact, as things stand, workers have no option to apply for permanent status. They are sent home as soon as their contracts expire — or sooner, if they complain or raise concerns about poor working or living conditions..

They take with them an evaluation form from their employer, which must be given to the home government. At the end of the season, employers fill an evaluation report indicating if they would recall the workers for next season. A negative report can result in suspension from the program. Workers also report on their treatment by Canadian employers, but most of them avoid complaints for fear that this would be held against them in reapplying for work in Canada.

In the Mexican case, the government requires that applicants have less than grade three education, a farm-worker background, and strong family ties — factors believed likely to prevent them from establishing themselves in Canada as undocumented workers.

Workers get little information on what to expect in Canada. Once here, they start at or near minimum wage, exposed to long shifts of hard labour (up to 12-16 hour days in peak season). They receive no overtime pay, no paid holidays, sometimes no weekends, and no vacation pay. They are also subjected to unfair paycheck deductions for social benefits such as Unemployment Insurance and Canadian Pension Plan that they can never receive because of their “temporary” status.

The SAWP program does not provide a path to regularization of status. Migrant labourers work here for years as migrants, coming and going yearly, sometimes for their entire work life. They develop ties here and establish themselves up to a certain point, but are never able to settle with their families. This creates a pattern of extended and painful family separation. Children grow up without fathers, while men here establish separate lives, and the fabrics of relationships and communities are strained.

Immigrant-based community grassroots organizations, progressive faith groups, and the labour movement point out that such temporary worker programs depress standards for all workers in Canada. The migrant-worker programs are yet another tactic of the “divide and conquer” strategy that aims to divide and fracture the working class. It encourages a perception that migrant workers threaten the jobs and employment standards of the local population, when in fact it is the migrant-labour programs — not the workers — that threaten us all.

How to create a labour surplus

The rural economy of Mexico has been devastated in recent years by the provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement. This is entirely intentional, reflecting NAFTA’s goal of reshaping Mexico’s economy in line with the needs of mainly U.S. corporate interests, while enriching the notoriously corrupt Mexican ruling class.

NAFTA and related policies deepen economic distress in Mexico where, according to the World Bank, 50% live in poverty and 15% in extreme poverty — about 15 million Mexicans struggling to fend off starvation. Meanwhile, Mexico, one of the world’s most unequal and unjust countries, boasts more new billionaires than Canada, including the richest man on earth, Carlos Slim.

The economic collapse of the Mexican countryside has created waves of migrants seeking a future in Mexico’s large cities and in the U.S. It is estimated there could be as many as 12 million undocumented Mexicans in the U.S. Half a million brave the dangerous journey north every year. About 3,000 die each year in the attempt, mostly from exposure while crossing the unforgiving deserts of the U.S. Southwest. The migrants’ remittances back home are now Mexico’s largest source of foreign revenue, about $25 billion annually.

SAWP and other temporary worker programs take advantage of the huge surplus of cheap labour in Mexico that NAFTA helped to create. Through temporary worker programs, governments of both Mexico and Canada aim to manage the flow of migrants to the North for the benefit of local business elites, while stripping workers of rights and liberties.

The result is to create in this country an underclass of workers, an underclass of human beings stamped with the labels of “foreign,” “undocumented,” “unskilled,” and “temporary.” Meanwhile it relieves the Mexican government of responsibility to ensure healthy rural and urban development throughout the country.

The need to organize

The creation of this oppressed migrant workforce must be answered by a migrant labour movement with its feet and heart in the countries of both origin and destination, one that seeks real and lasting solutions to the migrant workers’ problems. This movement must be based on grassroots organizing initiatives that empower workers to lead their own struggle. Real changes happen only when those most affected, those who suffer the most, are at the forefront of the struggle. If this is not the case, changes if any will be superficial and short-lived.

The Justicia/Justice for Migrant Workers collective sees its mandate as assisting those most affected — the migrant workers — in stepping to the fore and consolidating their position and participation in the movement. We help workers organize in an effective manner, avoiding possible risk of repatriation and seeking to meet their immediate and long-term needs.

We expose migrant workers’ conditions and apply pressure through the media, while accompanying the workers’ process of raising consciousness, and developing skills and tools drawn from their own analysis of their condition and situation. We seek to help create different types of support systems — legal, political, and moral — within the community to overcome the numerous barriers that silence migrant workers.

In B.C., unlike other provinces in the east, migrant farm workers are allowed to unionize. In some cases, unions have sought to respond to their plight, as with regard to the temporary workers employed in B.C. on the Richmond-Vancouver rapid transit line and the Golden Ears Bridge over the Fraser River. The United Food and Commercial Workers operate Migrant Support Centers in Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec, and recently B.C. Currently it is fighting for the right to represent these workers in Manitoba and Quebec.

On the whole, however, efforts by the trade union movement to defend these workers have been sporadic, and their character raises legitimate concerns.

In addition, it must be asked whether Canada’s unions, with their present hierarchical and primarily white leadership structures, can effectively represent migrant workers and serve their interests. Are unions long-term allies of migrant workers, supporting their struggle not only here but in their country of origin, where the root causes are found that forced them to migrate? Should an independent migrant workers union be formed to better represent their interests by exercising their skills and building on their organizing culture and historical backgrounds?

What is certain is that regardless of the structure or model, the most affected ones — migrant workers and migrants of colour — should represent themselves. Only this will counteract their historical background of marginalization. Otherwise systemic patterns of charity and paternalism will be perpetuated, making token gestures to those most affected — the migrant workers — without changing the structures that determine their fate.

Alliances of migrant workers with other sectors, inside and outside the labour movement, should address systemic issues, such as the root causes of migration, structural and systemic racism in immigration policies and hiring systems, and so on. There are ways unions can support migrant workers other than merely “representing” or “leading” their struggle.

Support and solidarity can be expressed through respecting, facilitating, and encouraging migrant workers’ self-organization instead of speaking for them and having others doing the work for them. Respect and support is also needed for grassroots organizing efforts to develop leadership and capacity within community-based organizations. This can help grassroots organizers and migrant workers develop the tools needed for their struggle for justice and dignity.

After my first “Canadian social history lesson” in the tomato greenhouse three years ago, many more followed. Undoubtedly, the most powerful and hopeful lessons came from the migrant farm workers themselves, who through the years have been resisting with admirable courage and dignity their “patrones” (bosses), both in their farms and the consular offices, where officials are often from the employer’s side. They do this sometimes silently and sometimes loudly, accompanied by external supporters or just by themselves. They demand the right to be human beings, not just the “economic units” that global capital needs them to be.

For more information on this subject, see Cultivating Farmworker Rights: Ending the Exploitation of Immigrant and Migrant Farmworkers in BC (PDF 1058 Kb) published on June 18, 2008 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

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